With three kids in grade school, I always knew it was possible that one of them could end up with the dreaded head-scratching scourge of the playground: lice. So in a certain way, I was mentally prepared—though totally grossed out—when my seven-year-old daughter said to me, “Mom, whenever I scratch my head, I get these little bugs under my fingernails.” Apparently, the white flakes on her hair that I had thought were dandruff weren’t flakes at all—they were egg sacs. (Ew!)
Like any self-respecting millennial mom, I got information from the internet and set about washing my daughter’s bed sheets on high heat, bagging up her stuffed animals and meticulously combing through her hair to weed out nits. It all seemed par for the course, something that would soon be a story I’d swap with other veteran parents as proof of our child-rearing mettle.
Meanwhile, I played the situation down to my daughter, offering platitudes like “It’s not that bad” and “Lots of kids get lice. It’s normal” and “Just give it time. It’ll pass before you know it.” To her credit, she handled the whole thing with surprising equanimity. Though she cried at first, she submitted with relative calm to time-consuming hair treatments and the temporary absence of her favourite plush toys.
But 10 days later, when I was chatting with my husband after the kids had gone to bed, I felt something like a sesame seed under my nail when I combed my fingers through my hair—and I lost it. “I have it! I have it!” I started to scream, jumping up and down like a deranged cheerleader.
“You have what?” he asked, mystified.
“BUGSSSSSS!” I hissed at him. “In my hair! I HAVE LICE!!!”
I sobbed and shook as my husband looked through my hair to confirm the awful news. This cannot be happening to me, I thought to myself, as though I’d been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease or found myself living out the plot of The Shining. For the rest of the evening, our previous plans to get housework done were cancelled, as I asked (read: forced) my husband to apply the lice-killing cream to every strand of my hair and distracted myself with romantic comedies on Netflix. The weekend passed in a blur of tears and obsessive apple cider vinegar shampooing.
First thing Monday morning, I scheduled appointments for my daughter and myself at an expensive lice treatment clinic. Sure, it was entirely possible that the home treatments I’d applied to my hair over the weekend had been effective, but I was taking no chances. When it was just my daughter who had lice, I had waffled about going to a clinic, taking a wait-and-see approach. With my own head on the line, however, there was no way I’d remain a pleasure cruise for bugs any longer than necessary.
After dropping enough cash to cover a spa day, we each got a treatment that resembled a shop-vac to the head for a few hours, then were released back into the world. According to the experts at the clinic, “the infestation is on your head, not in your home,” so this one-time visit was all that was required to declare us lice-free. I hoped to everything holy we would remain so—and, thankfully, months later, we have.
These days, with a bit of hindsight, I can see my over-the-top reaction for the meltdown it was, and I’m chagrined to realize the discrepancy between how I treated my daughter’s case of lice and my own. To her, I had minimized the scariness of having bugs take up residence on your head. But when the infestation was on my own head, I felt the need to attack it like a five-alarm fire.
I’ve since begun to consider that sometimes the things we tell our kids to keep their cool about might actually deserve a little bit of freak-out—maybe not an all-consuming weekend of drama like I had, but as parents we could offer a bit more empathy and validation. Though I congratulated myself at the time for making light of lice to my daughter, I actually regret not giving the scariness of the scenario its due in my conversations with her. I mean, bugs were literally living on our heads, feeding on our blood—that’s pretty disturbing.
Now that our lice ordeal has passed, I feel a little more prepared to offer this kind of compassion the next time one of my kids comes down with some unpleasant ailment–just please (please!) don’t let it be another case of lice.